Hollow eye sockets peeked through the open doorway. Water droplets splashed on the concrete floor. The confined space was dimly lit by a few lights.
The ceilings were high, too high. Footsteps echoed in the elongated tunnels. The stretch brought forth an unuttered mutual understanding:
This, is our shared path.
The Catacombs of Paris is an eerie place. Its walls are lined with rows and rows of skulls. Skulls of mothers who tended to their children, skulls of brothers who protected their sisters, skulls of family and friends that might’ve been close-knit, or distant.
The Catacombs don’t discriminate.
It holds millions of mirroring physical manifestations that once had distinct personalities, backgrounds, and livelihoods.
The Catacombs can’t differentiate.
My friends and I arrived at the Catacombs of Paris on a sunny weekday afternoon. Opened daily from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. with the exception of Mondays and several holidays, the Catacombs cost EUR 13 and has the option of a guided tour on Thursdays at 1:00 p.m.
There were barely any people during our visit. Before long, we were instructed to head onto a set of 131 stairs that spiraled downward into an enclosed maze.
The air was still and just a tad chilly.
The Catacombs of Paris: Enter the Tomb
I could hear each and every one of our breaths. The rhythmic inhales and the soothing exhales that were indistinguishable in the chaotic Parisian streets, were amplified in this silent dwelling.
The Catacombs were a solution to Paris overcrowding cemeteries. Originally a mineshaft, this tunnel network became a largely forgotten storage area for the remains of Parisians. Its rediscovery and subsequent renovations resulted in its transformation into a tourist attraction.
There were numerous intersecting tunnels in the Catacombs. Each had an arrangement style different from the other.
In some, the skulls and bones were lined straight against the concrete backdrop. In others, they formed a cylindrical shape that resembled a complex column.
Interestingly, the Catacombs of Paris isn’t the only ossuary in Europe. After spending 15 days in Italy, I noted the similarities between the underground networks of Paris and the Catacombs of Rome, where 40 such burial sites have been discovered to date.
The Catacombs of Paris: Final Thoughts
There’s no denying the significance of these tomb discoveries. It opened another window into the time passed.
Of course, we may never fully grasp the background and specifics of those who’ve departed, no matter how hard the Catacombs work to “recall the history of these Parisians”. We will never completely understand each delight and every ache that is woven deeply into the sociopolitical fabrics of this country.
Yet, the Catacombs of Paris is a reminder that we only face two definites: life and death.
All the bias and divide we see today, are they not unnecessities that take away from an otherwise fulfilling journey? In truth, our outward differences will not hide the fact that underneath the physical appearance, we are but bones that may be suitable for the decoration of another ossuary, for others who follow.
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.
For in revery you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures.
And take with you all men: For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower than their despair.
Thanks to my beautiful friend Camila for these beautiful photos. Check her out here.
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